7 Reasons You're Not Building Muscle Even Though You're Lifting Weights

You've been spending tons of time in the gym trying to get Michelle Obama arms, but you don't seem to be building any muscle. What gives?

Several things could explain why your arms are as noodly as ever (or why your butt isn't getting any bigger or your shoulders don't look any more sculpted)—and most of them are completely under your control. Here, our experts uncover reasons you’re not building muscle so you can make the changes you need to make all your hard work pay off.

You’re doing mostly cardio

Don’t get us wrong—cardio is important for keeping your body fat down and keeping your heart health in check. (Bonus points if you run or bike, since outdoor exercise is linked to better energy and improved mental health.) But when it comes to building muscle, hitting the treadmill won't help you much. “Every component of exercise, minus cardio, can help with muscle hypertrophy,” which is the scientific term for muscle building, says Michelle Lovitt, an exercise physiologist and trainer in Los Angeles. “Cardio tends to burn calories and puts your body in a deficit, which is great for leaning out, but not building mass.”

RELATED: Lifting Weights May Protect Memory as We Age

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You’re not using heavy enough weights

Those 5-pound dumbbells were a great place to start as a beginner, but if you've been lifting weights for a while, it's time to bump up the weight. “You can use both exercise machines and free weights,” explains Michele Olson, PhD, exercise physiologist, professor of exercise science at Auburn University Montgomery, “but, if you are not lifting heavy enough weight, it doesn’t matter if you are primarily using free weights or machines.” In order to build muscle, you must break down muscle tissue using a weight that is challenging enough to cause micro-tears, which when repaired, form denser, stronger fibers.

You’re not sleeping enough

Those micro-tears that are such a key factor for muscle-building need rest to rebuild themselves and grow stronger. When do they do that? When you’re asleep! “You have to rest and feed your muscles between workouts or you will tear them down and they will become weaker,” says Olson. “Over time, you run the risk of over-training, which can result in injury, and possibly even more sleep troubles.”

RELATED: 8 Factors That Could Be Keeping You Up at Night

You’re inconsistent with your routine

If you're serious about putting on some muscle, then the most efficient way to do it is with three intense resistance training sessions and two lighter intensity workouts per week. “You need to have consistency in a workout program, hitting at least each muscle group two times a week to build muscle,” explains Lovitt. If you’re looking to switch up exercises, Olson suggests swaps such as sumo squats instead of traditional squats; step-ups on a bench instead of lunges; and then rotating back to the former. “These types of variation can be very effective in developing muscles, but the weights must still be fairly heavy that you’re using,” she says.

You’ve developed muscle imbalances

A muscle imbalance—when one muscle is stronger than its opposing muscle—can limit your ability to exercise effectively, and could lead to injury down the line. “It’s important to recognize whether you’re really working the muscles you think you are and recognize if you’ve developed an imbalance that alters your movement pattern,” says Eric Ingram, physical therapist at Louisiana Physical Therapy Centers of Pineville. One common imbalance in women is stronger quads and weaker, tighter hamstrings, thanks to prolonged sitting, high heels, and improper training. If you suspect you have a muscle imbalance, make an appointment with a physical therapist, who will prescribe exercises to even you out.

RELATED: LISS vs. HIIT: What's the Difference?

You have bad form

It’s not just about lifting—it’s about lifting safely and correctly. And if you’re not performing exercises properly, it’s impossible to make any progress. “When someone is just starting to work out, it can help to work closely with a knowledgeable personal trainer in order to learn proper form,” says Ingram. But that goes for experienced lifters, too. If you aren’t sure about a movement, it’s better to ask. “If you’re not working the correct muscles, you can’t expect them to grow,” explains Ingram.

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Your genetics may not be working in your favor

It’s true—your genes can play a role when it comes to building muscle. In general, there are two types of muscle fibers: Type I, which are slow twitch, and Type II, which are fast twitch. Depending on which you have more of, you may have an easier or harder time gaining muscle. “Fast twitch muscle fibers are two times as thick as slow twitch muscle fibers, lending to the overall thickness of the muscle without any activity,” explains Lovitt. “Those people with a genetic predisposition of a high percentage of these fibers can increase muscle size very easily while the people with a higher percentage of slow twitch muscle fibers have to work really hard to put on mass.” It’s the reason why a world-class sprinter genetically has more fast twitch muscle fibers than a world-class marathoner—it comes down to what we’re born with.

4 Lower Body Exercises You Can Do in Front of Your TV

Drop it like it’s hot? How about drop it like squat? If you usually shy away from lower body exercises in favor of above the belt training, it’s time to wise up. Whether or not weight loss is your goal, you’ll get serious pay-off by training your lower half. Your quads, hamstrings and glutes are home to some of the biggest muscles in your body, and those muscles will torch calories both during and after your workout, thanks to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), the process by which your body replenishes its oxygen stores.

Plus, working your lower body will pay off in about a million different ways. “Lower body strength, much like your core, is a foundation for all fitness,” says Justin Rubin, Daily Burn trainer for True Beginner. Challenging your legs and glutes will translate to better balance, strength and agility — all of which are important for day-to-day activities like racing up the stairs (without burning thighs) or even getting low on the dance floor.

Best of all, you don’t even need a pimped-out gym to get started. We asked Rubin to demonstrate four beginner-friendly moves that can be done pretty much anywhere. (Translation: No equipment required!) For a solid workout, repeat each exercise for one minute, doing as many reps as possible. Then recover for 30 seconds. Complete five rounds and you’ll start to feel the burn! If you want an extra challenge, try the optional towel modifications listed below each description to engage your upper body as well.

RELATED: 15-Minute Leg Workout to Tone Up Fast

4 No-Equipment Lower Body Exercises

 Back Lunges
1. Reverse Lunges

Targets: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, core

How to: Begin standing with your feet hip-width apart, hands on your hips (a). Shift your weight onto your left leg and step your right leg straight behind you (b). Lower directly downwards until your front and back knees are at 90-degree angles. Hold for one second (c). Next, engage your left thigh and push off your right leg, coming back to a neutral, standing position (d). Repeat on the other side, alternating sides for a minute.

Extra credit: Hold a towel taut between your hands. When you step back for a lunge, twist your upper body in the opposite direction of your back leg. (Example: Twist to the left when you step back with your right leg.)

RELATED: Hate Squats? 7 Glute Exercises for an Instant Butt Lift

 Squats
2. Squats

Targets: Glutes, quads, hamstrings

How to: Begin with your feet under your hips, legs no wider than your shoulders. Your bodyweight should be in your heels and your arms should be relaxed by your sides (a). Keeping your chest upright and your shoulder blades pulled back, bend your knees and sink down, making sure your knees do not extend beyond your toes. Your arms should extend straight in front of you. Imagine you are touching your butt to a chair (b). Now, drive through your legs and squeeze your glutes to stand back up, letting your arms come down to your sides again (c). Repeat for one minute.

Extra credit: Hold a towel taut between your hands. As you squat down, bring your arms overhead, so your face is in between your biceps. When you drive upwards to stand back up, slowly let your arms come back to your sides.

RELATED: Are You Foam Rolling All Wrong?

 Side Lunge
3. Side Lunges

Targets: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, core

How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands on your hips (a). Take a wide step to the left, letting your left foot point diagonally away from you and keeping your right foot planted (b). Keeping your weight in your heels and your chest lifted upwards, turn your left foot and knee out slightly as you sink down into a lunge. Make sure your knees do not come over your toes (c). Next, push off with your left leg, engaging your inner thighs and glutes, and bring the leg back to the neutral starting position (d). Repeat on the other side, alternating sides for a minute.

Extra credit: Want to engage the muscles in your arms? Hold a towel taut between your hands, with your arms extended straight upwards. When you step to one side for a lunge, bring your arms down so the towel touches your outer thigh. Bring your arms upwards as you step in.

RELATED: 3 No-Equipment CrossFit Workouts You Can Do at Home

 Curtsy Lunge
4. Curtsy Lunges

Targets: Glutes, quads, inner thighs

How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands on your hips (a). Shift your weight to your right side and step your left leg behind your right leg so your legs are crossed. If you imagine a clock underneath you, your left toes should be at roughly 4 o’clock (b). Bend both knees, not letting them come over your toes, and sink into the lunge, keeping your chest upright (c). Engage your quads and squeeze your glutes as you drive off your left leg, standing up and bringing it back to the starting position (d). Repeat on the other side, alternating sides for one minute.

Extra credit: When standing upright, hold the towel taut in front of your chest. As you step to each side for the curtsy lunge, extend your arms and bring them down so the towel is in front of your shin. Be sure to maintain good upper body posture. Once you drive off your back leg, bring your arms and towel back to your chest.

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Venus Williams Describes Her Workout Routine and Eating Habits: 'It's My Job to Be Healthy'

This article originally appeared on People.com. 

Working out and eating well are the norm for Venus Williams.”It’s my job to be healthy, so it’s something that’s always in the forefront for me,” the tennis pro, 36, told PEOPLE while discussing her upcoming collection for EleVen. “I’ve been doing this for a quite a while, so it’s easy to be in a routine of what I need to eat and what I need to do to perform at my best level.”Williams varies her workout routine depending on how far out she is from a match, and how tough the match will be.”If it’s two weeks out, it’s a different routine than the day or two days before,” she explains. “Two weeks out I’m training as hard as I can, and then the day before it’s all about just easing your way into the match.”When she’s in training mode, Williams says gym workouts are just as vital as tennis practice.

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“I usually do an equal amount of time on the court and time in the gym,” she says. “Half the battle is in the gym.”And when she’s not training, she’s sure to give her body the rest it needs.”Taking time off is also important too!”As for her eating habits, when Williams is preparing for a tennis match, she’ll load up on healthy carbs such as steamed rice and sweet potatoes. And while she eats a clean, plant-based diet for the most part, she does let herself splurge when she wants to.”I do splurge, absolutely, because I’m human and I want to have a great life,” she says. “I happen to love different treats and butter, things like that. You just have to live a balanced life.”

Is Running Good or Bad for Your Knees?

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

Running has a reputation for causing wear and tear on knees over time, leading to joint pain, arthritis or other injuries. But a recent small study found that 30 minutes of running actually lowered inflammation in runners’ knee joints, leading many to question whether running really does increase a person’s risk for injuries—or if it helps prevent them.

In the report, published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers at Brigham Young University brought 15 healthy runners ages 18 to 35 into a lab where they took samples of their blood and knee joint fluid before and after they ran for 30 minutes on a treadmill. They also assessed the same samples when they were sedentary.

The researchers expected to find an increase in molecules that spur inflammation in people’s knee fluid after they ran, but they didn’t. Instead, they found that pro-inflammatory markers actually decreased after a 30-minute run. The scientists ended up only getting complete information from six of the people in the study, but they saw the same results in all of those people.

“It was surprising,” says study author Matt Seeley, an associate professor of exercise science at BYU. “We expected the molecules to increase, but it was the opposite.” Seeley stresses that the report is a pilot study, and that due to the small number of people, there’s not a lot that can be inferred from the findings. The researchers also only looked at inflammation right after people ran, rather than a week or month later. But Seeley says his team plans to do the same study in more people in the future.

“I think, and hope, the data shows that running is good for your joints,” Seeley adds. “Although the results are limited, they are also unexpected and could be important.”

Some experts not involved in the study say that while the study findings are intriguing—even given the small sample size—it’s not yet clear whether running can protect knees from injuries or arthritis. “There is data on both sides of the fence,” says Dr. Brian Feeley, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of California, San Francisco. “We know that there are some people that run all the time with no knee problems, and others that have arthritis at a relatively young age.” (Feeley was not involved in the recent study.)

For many runners, a 30-minute session is relatively short, and Feeley says the study does not necessarily suggest that long-distance running is safe. Other studies of marathon runners have found changes in cartilage that could suggest potential for injuries that can persist for months after a long race.

“Taken together, this suggests that there is probably an evolutionary advantage to allow us to run relatively short distances where our bodies protect cartilage from damage by decreasing inflammation,” says Feeley. “Long distance running may result in a situation where overwhelming the knee’s ability to decrease inflammation occurs, leading to the potential for joint degeneration.”

Both Seeley and Feeley agree that the benefits of running outweigh the risks of not running (especially if done in moderation.) Other factors, like weight or genetics, may also contribute to whether a person is more likely to get arthritis or other injuries from running. More research is needed to fully understand the risks and benefits. In the meantime, people who run can reduce their risk of knee problems through cross training and taking time to recover, as well as paying attention to any pain or swelling.

6 Exercises to Sculpt Lean, Strong Legs Like Your Favorite Stars at the Grammys

Tune into the Grammy Awards last night? Then you know that legs were having a major moment. From the red carpet to the performance stage, the limbs of several of our favorite celebs, including Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, Carrie Underwood, Taraji P. Henson, Heidi Klum, and (all of) Beyonce, were on display in micro minis, gorgeous gowns with thigh-high splits, and barely-there booty shorts. And let’s be honest: We were here for all of it.

In honor of their striking stems, we’ve pulled together some of our toughest leg toners to help you get a leg up as well. While it won’t be easy, these exercises will definitely be effective in helping to get those gams in showoff shape.

You leaner, stronger leg plan starts now.

Side Lunge

Start with feet in a wide stance; toes pointed forward. Lunge to the right, lowering as far down as possible, and then lift and flex the left foot. Return left foot back to ground, pushing into it to rise back up start. Repeat movement on the left side. 

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Hip Bridge 

Lie faceup with knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and toes lifted; arms should be at sides with fingers facing toes. Lift hips until back forms a straight line from knees to shoulders. Hold for 1 second, and then lower back to start. Repeat 15 times. (To see how it's done, click here.)

Flying Crescent Lunge

Start with feet together. Step backward with left foot, lowering down into a lunge. Keeping the right knee over the right ankle,  reach arms up. Pushing off with both feet, jump straight up. Land back into a lunge, but this time with the right foot back. This is 1 rep; do 25. (Check the move out here.)

Down Dog Split

Start on all fours. Straighten legs and lift hips and butt into air to come into down dog. Push hands and feet into ground; relax head between arms. Lift right leg up as high as you can while keeping it straight; flex foot. Lower leg and repeat movement with left leg. (See it done here.)

Jazz Split Plank Lift

Lie on your right side with legs stacked, torso propped up on right elbow and left hand on floor. With knees slightly bent, stretch the bottom (right) leg forward and top (left) leg back. Lift hips and legs off of ground, balancing on the sides of feet, elbow, and hand. Lift back leg a few inches off the ground; hold for a moment, then release back to start. Do 15 to 30 reps per side. (For a visual, click here.)

Walking Side Squats with a Resistance Band

Stand with feet hip-width apart and a medium resistance band wrapped around ankles or just above knees (band taut); place hands on hips. Squat, and then step left foot out to left. Step right leg in toward left, keeping enough space so band remains taut. Do 10 reps. Reverse motion, stepping out to the right 10 times. Do 2 sets 3 times a week. (Click here for an illustration.)

 

7 Pro Tips to Get Consistent With Your Workouts

Looking for an answer to why you’re falling short of your fitness goals? Creating and maintaining a regular workout schedule just might be the secret sauce you’re forgetting to toss into your workout plan.

“You need to be consistent for the beneficial changes of exercise to occur in your body,” says Edward R. Laskowski, MD, co-director of Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine. “For example, regular, consistent aerobic exercise stimulates the growth of new capillaries to bring blood to your muscles. This takes several weeks to occur.” It also takes weeks of strength training to grow muscle fibers, which will make you stronger and more toned. Simply put, “if you’re inconsistent, these physiologic changes take longer to occur and the changes will not be as robust,” Dr. Laskowski explains.

RELATED: 17 Tips from Fit Moms on Finding Time for Exercise

The Consistency Formula for Getting Fit

Though there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how consistent your routine needs to be, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans provides a solid outline. Aim for 150 minutes a week of moderately intense physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, and lift weights twice a week. It helps to try to move more often throughout your day, whether you’re getting up to go chat with a colleague or taking a midday jog, says Dr. Laskowski.

An easy way to make sure you can stick to a workout: Find something you like. That could mean walking around your neighborhood after dinner most nights or signing up for a membership at your favorite studio. “It can take a long time to develop that consistency, but when something becomes a part of your everyday life, it feels much less like a chore and much more like a given,” says Kristie Larson, an instructor at Row House in New York City. “And that’s when it really gets fun.”

Of course, you’re not alone if a regular workout routine seems near impossible. But no matter how busy your schedule, it can happen. We talked to some top trainers to find out how they promote a regular routine for their clients — and for themselves.

RELATED: 9 Reasons to Never Skip a Workout, As Told to Trainers

7 Tips to Make Your Fitness More Consistent

1. Become a regular class goer.

It seems easy: If you want to work out frequently, commit to a class, gym session or online workout at the same time and same day at least three times a week, suggests Larson. (She does this with her own schedule.) By going consistently, you also commit to getting better at that activity. In the example of rowing, you’ll perfect your form, build endurance and become a stronger rower. “Tracking progress is extremely important when talking about consistency,” she says. When you see improvements, it’s a major motivator.

RELATED: 15 Genius Meal Prep Ideas from Top Trainers

2. Rise and shine.

Ever try becoming a member of the morning exercise club? It could be the answer to making your workouts stick. Several experts suggest tackling a sweat session before your day gets overloaded, so you can make sure to fit it in. “In your first hour of waking, you have the opportunity to aim all of your energy toward creating your healthiest self,” says Ann Green, founder of Bliss Yoga in Barrie, Ontario. Use the time wisely — even if it’s just 10 minutes. Lay out your outfit and pack your gym bag the night before, too. Then you’re ready to hit the ground running (literally!) in the morning.

RELATED: 15 Get-Out-of-Bed Tricks from Fitness Pros

3. Make an announcement.

Besides the much-talked-about idea of planning your workout schedule in advance (and putting it on the calendar!), it can also help if you tell your co-workers what you plan to do. That’s how Allie Whitesides, a personal trainer and Daily Burn Fitness/Nutrition Coach, fits in a sweat session. “On the days where I can’t work out before my day starts, I pick another 30-minute window to get active,” she says. “Then I announce it at work — and [the people around me] make me feel guilty if I don’t get it done. It works for me.”

4. Form relationships.

When you get to know your instructor, other people in a class or even the front desk staff, you start to feel more accountable for your workouts. “If you know that someone will notice your absence, you’re going to think twice about skipping class,” Larson says.

RELATED: Strength in Numbers: How to Find Your Fitness Tribe

5. Find balance.

Ever since Daily Burn 365 trainer Krystal Dwyer had her baby nine months ago, fitting in regular exercise has become a little more difficult. But she finds little ways to squeeze it in, like going for long walks, doing at-home workouts (which sometimes involve her daughter) or signing up for a gym right next door. She also tracks her steps so she knows when she needs to kick up her numbers at the end of the day. “It’s about thinking outside of the box to make your goals happen,” Dwyer says. “All in all, I do my best every day, as I encourage others to do. But some days might not go as planned — and that’s OK, too!”

6. Factor in rest days.

Diving into an intense workout could mean you fall off the wagon as soon as you feel worn out, which probably won’t take long. So don’t be afraid to take days off when your body feels like it needs a break. “And choose training methods that are sustainable,” says Larson. “Fitness is not about abusing your body. It’s about taking care of it.”

RELATED: 5 Restorative Yoga Poses to Ease Your Muscles (And Your Mind)

7. Streamline your obligations.

Take a cue from Noah Neiman, co-founder of Rumble, a boxing studio in New York City: “I know that if I am my best self — and take care of the only piece of real estate that one can truly own in their lifetime, my body — I will be a better version of myself for everyone else.” That means you shouldn’t be afraid to turn down extra projects or nights out in favor of getting active. And even more importantly, know that doing so isn’t a selfish act.

This Tracy Anderson Workout Will Tone Your Entire Body With Just a Towel

Your body language can be very powerful. Are you constantly slouching or crossing your arms? You may be unintentionally telling those around you that you lack strength or are defensive. What's more, this type of posture ends up closing off your upper body and making you look less fit. If you crave a longer, leaner frame, developing the upper body is essential.

To work on opening yourself up, try incorporating a hand towel in your workout. Yes, a hand towel! Holding it taut forces you to stretch your arms apart and press your shoulders back, which instantly opens you up. Not to mention, keeping the towel pulled tight as you move your body challenges your brain to stay fully engaged (always the goal).

This routine—which requires you to extend and lift your lower body, as well—will soon have you moving through life a little straighter, a little stronger, and much more aware of the space you occupy. 

Do 30 reps of each move in the series on one side, then repeat sequence on the other side. And don't forget your 30 to 60 minutes of cardio six times a week.

RELATED: This Is Tracy Anderson's Go-To Arm Workout

1. Lunge and Arabesque

Kneel on left knee with right foot on the floor, toes pointed out and knee at 90 degrees; hold towel taut above head (A). Lower yourself forward, bringing hands to the floor as right leg swings back and up (B). Return to "A" and repeat. 

2. Knee Pull and Arabesque

Start on all fours, holding a towel taut. Raise left thigh out to the side, coming into a fire hydrant position. Lower down to right forearm and extend left elbow up until towel is taut (A). Pull left knee in toward shoulder, then extend left leg diagonally back and out with toes pointed (B). Pull knee back in and repeat. 

3. Coupé to Attitude Lift

Kneel, holding a towel taut behind head. Lower right hand down to the floor and tuck left ankle behind right knee (A). Lift left thigh up and back (B). Return to "A" and repeat. 

4. Straight Leg Swing

Lie on right side with legs slightly bent; prop upper body up on right forearm, place left palm on the floor, and extend left leg straight up (A). Rotate torso so it faces down as you come onto right knee while swinging left leg back and up, toes pointed (B). Return to "A"; repeat. 

5. Knee Hike and Hip Lift

Lie on right side with right leg bent at 90 degrees; prop upper body up on right forearm, place left palm on the floor, and lift left leg (A). As you lift right hip up, pull left knee in toward shoulder so left leg forms a 90-degree angle (B). Return to "A" and repeat. 

Tracy's wearing: Karma Athletics KarmaLuxe bra, from $78; similar styles at usa.karmaathletics.com. Karma Athletics KarmaLuxe Camille Crop leggings, $92; usa.karmaathletics.com. Nike Air Max 1 Jacquard sneakers, $140; similar styles at nike.com.

 

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